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How did you get involved with the MMRF?

Our “Richard’s Rangers” team was formed by our family for the MMRF Race for Research in Philadelphia in 2010 as a way to honor our husband, father, and grandfather, Richard A. Englander and fundraise and spread awareness for the disease. Richard was a patient of Dr. Edward Stadtmauer at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He had told Richard about the wonderful work of the MMRF to educate patients and caregivers and to fund important research to find a cure. We have been supporting the MMRF ever since!

Why did you choose to participate in the MMRF Walk/Run?

We first chose to participate in the MMRF Walk/Run because it was a way that the three generations of our family (even very young children) could come together to do something to support Richard as he was battling multiple myeloma. His story is nothing short of miraculous. He was diagnosed in 1988, had a stem cell harvest in 1997 and transplant in 2000, and was given several novel treatments along the way. He was able to walk with us in 2010 and for several years following until he passed away in 2016. The MMRF’s help in developing new ways to fight myeloma, without a doubt, gave Richard a chance to live for over 20 years following his diagnosis.

The Spirit of Hope is given to “individuals/groups who inspire hope and show extraordinary commitment to the MMRF.” What does being given the award mean to you?

It is an honor for Richard’s Rangers to be recognized with this award. We are indebted to the MMRF for the groundbreaking research that continues to this day to treat multiple myeloma to allow future generations of patients to live their lives to the fullest as Richard did. He was an inspiration to us, never wavering in his desire to beat his cancer and to give others hope.

How have you found perseverance in light of obstacles? Please share any stories that have given you strength.

Since Richard’s death in 2016, we have all tried to honor him by living our lives like he did. Richard was incredibly loving and was adored by all who met him. He trusted in God and his doctors and endured many years of treatment with grace and dignity.

Do you have a favorite mantra, quote, or lyric that gives you strength? Anything to add?

We are looking forward to having our whole family together again in Philadelphia this October to walk in Richard’s memory and to support the MMRF!

The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation is delighted to recognize Richard’s Rangers as the MMRF Spirit of Hope Honoree at the 2024 MMRF Team for Cures: Philadelphia Walk/Run.

This award is presented at every Walk/Run to a patient, caregiver, or family who inspires hope through their resilience, perseverance, and dedication to the MMRF and its mission.

How did you get involved with the MMRF?

My sister, Christine Serra, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in September 2007. The next year when I ran the Chicago Marathon, I decided to fundraise for the MMRF and have been continuing to fundraise ever since.

Why did you choose to participate in the MMRF Walk/Run?

Soon after Christine was diagnosed, we formed Christine’s Crusaders. A large group of friends and family came out year after year to run and walk alongside her while she battled myeloma for six years. The MMRF gives so much of what is fundraised to research. While Christine passed away in 2013, Christine’s Crusaders have continued to fundraise to honor her memory and give hope to others battling the disease.

The Spirit of Hope is given to “individuals/groups who inspire hope and show extraordinary commitment to the MMRF.” What does being given the award mean to you?

Receiving this award means that while Christine is not with us, her spirit lives on. We hope to carry the torch of inspiration. It shows that all our work over the years is giving hope to others.

How have you found perseverance in light of obstacles? Please share any stories that have given you strength.

Christine is the most selfless person I have ever met. The most important thing she gave was her time. She would drop what she was doing to donate her time to a cause, volunteer at her children’s school, or just make time to listen. She was very cognizant that time was a precious gift. I try to live my life like her, making time for others.

The MMRF is delighted to recognize Christine’s Crusaders as the MMRF Spirit of Hope Honoree at the 2024 MMRF Team for Cures: Atlanta Walk/Run.

This award is presented at every Walk/Run to a patient, caregiver, or family who inspires hope through their resilience, perseverance, and dedication to the MMRF and its mission. Donate to Christine’s Crusaders 2024 Walk/Run fundraising page to accelerate a cure today!

How did you get involved with the MMRF?

Dennis and I didn’t always have cancer. We were in the middle of a sailing circumnavigation, when I first started noticing how fatigued Dennis was getting. I would think that’s how I will feel someday when I get to be Dennis’s age (we were ten years apart in age). And then I noticed that we were both losing weight, but I thought that was from a healthy lifestyle living off the grid. But then I started getting fatigued too, which I attributed to the fact that I was doing more of the sailing and chores because Dennis was so tired and taking more naps.

All the signs of cancer were there for the two of us, but it took a boating accident off a remote island in Northern Australia that prompted us to get medical attention. Because we didn’t have immediate access to good medical care, it took us a little over three months of sailing from Australia via Indonesia up to Singapore to get a proper diagnosis; we were told to go home immediately.

Once home, the doctors officially diagnosed Dennis with multiple myeloma. Because myeloma was my husband’s first cancer diagnosis, we both felt that it was important to support and fundraise for this treatable, but not curable, cancer. Dennis started the tradition as he wanted to do something and felt that this was something that he could do from a hospital bed in the cancer clinic. Our hopes were for a cure and to keep those treatments coming for those patients like Dennis who did not respond to the available treatments. Sadly, Dennis exhausted all the treatments, so it’s important to keep pushing for more treatments until there is a cure.

Why did you choose to participate in the MMRF Walk/Run?

MMRF is considered one of the best charitable organizations where your dollar goes the furthest to fund research for a cure; that’s important! It’s a dream of mine to have a world without cancer.

After I finished cancer treatment, Dennis and I started participating in the MMRF walks. He wanted to do something for the fight and realized that he could call family and friends for donations while getting chemo and blood/platelet infusions. While Dennis was in the early stages of his cancer, he was able to participate in the walks. Dennis was getting treatment at UCSF and we felt that it was important to support both MMRF and UCSF. We also have three neighbors (Bob, Alan, and Robin) fighting myeloma; plus, I lost a high school classmate (Gary) to myeloma, so the MMRF mission is near and dear to our hearts.

The Spirit of Hope is given to “individuals/groups who inspire hope and show extraordinary commitment to the MMRF.” What does being given the award mean to you?

I am a grateful cancer survivor but have sadly lost many of my family members to cancer. This includes my husband Dennis Millard (total of four cancers: two blood cancers multiple myeloma and acute myeloid leukemia; head and neck cancer; and skin melanoma); my sister Teri Bent, my brother-in-law Mike Millard; my niece Heidi Chamberlain, my daughter-in-law Theresa (the mother of my three grandchildren, Brenton, Alex, and Maddie); my Aunt Pat; and many others. They are why this is a very meaningful honor. There is also an alarming rise of cancer amongst young people, including my niece Claire Bent, who was diagnosed with colon cancer at only 34 years old with a young baby not even six months old. I am grateful that I was cured but truly feel that I must carry the torch for those who have not been so fortunate. Every time there is a survivor, I jump for joy. I was deeply touched when I received this honor because volunteering/fundraising is how I channel my grief. It gives me hope for a cure and encourages me to continue volunteering. Thank you to the MMRF!

How have you found perseverance in light of obstacles? Please share any stories that have given you strength.

I often wished that Dennis had a treatable/curable tumor cancer instead of blood cancer, which can be difficult to treat. The multiple cancer diagnoses, including two blood cancers, were tough. I thought to myself if there were one more diagnosis, I might jump off a cliff, but you can see that I haven’t. And because Dennis hung in there, so did I.

I actually found that caregiving was my most intimate time with Dennis, a period of my life with him that I truly cherished. We were together for nearly 40 years, and fighting cancer together only made our love for each other grow stronger.

We quickly learned to shift our focus from what we could do rather than focus on what we could not do. We shared some of the best times in our life during our cancer years, doing the simple things—whether it was sitting on a park bench watching the world turn while holding hands or so many others activities, including the simple joys of birdwatching, eating ice cream, cycling around the block, and even traveling some too. We would spend days in the clinic going through photos, playing backgammon, eating pastries, watching old movies, cheering the Warriors, and getting to know the nurses we were seeing on a very regular basis. We made the best of the limited time that we had together.

Also, the quality time that we did have was a result of treatments that were available to Dennis, which is why it’s so important to support the MMRF.

Do you have a favorite mantra, quote, or lyric that gives you strength?

You could often hear Dennis and I say, “It is what it is, so let’s make the most out of life.” And that old saying, “one day at a time,” also helped us to keep our focus on what was important rather than fretting too much on all the realities of cancer that we were facing. Often, we would refer to the “bag of tricks” when we thought that there was nothing more available, but Dennis’s doctors would find something to keep Dennis going, thanks to the MMRF.

The MMRF is delighted to recognize MaryLee Millard as the MMRF Spirit of Hope Honoree at the 2024 MMRF Team for Cures: San Francisco Walk/Run.

This award is presented at every Walk/Run to a patient, caregiver, or family who inspires hope through their resilience, perseverance, and dedication to the MMRF and its mission.

How did you get involved with the MMRF?

On April 26, 2017, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. After an initial round of treatment, I had a stem cell transplant and have been on Darzalex ever since. I am lucky and grateful to be MRD negative and to have access to the best myeloma specialists and drugs. Since being diagnosed, I have had seven more birthdays, enjoyed my summers, played tons of canasta, taken family trips to Mexico and romantic trips abroad, and celebrated several high school and college graduations. Jeff and I have celebrated seven more wedding anniversaries—and this year, we mark 30 amazing years. Last year, we celebrated my oldest daughter’s wedding. I am very lucky, and I know I am not alone. I have the most amazing family and friends who not only support me, but they also support a groundbreaking organization that is on the path to curing myeloma, the MMRF.

When I support the MMRF, it’s because I want to see more new drugs approved and I want more people to have access to innovative therapies and MM specialists. In just the last 7 years, many new drugs have been approved to treat MM, and because of that, I have hope no matter what the future brings. I want to live a long and healthy life. And I want that for you and your loved ones, too.

Since I was diagnosed in 2017, the MMRF has made great strides in the fight against cancer. Not only is it on the forefront of developing new drugs, but it also provides access to the latest online information and guidance through the Patient Navigator. And when new information comes out or I get confusing advice, someone is always there to help at the MMRF.

That’s why, with the support of my friends and family—and good people just like you —I’ve been able to raise more than a half a million dollars to support the MMRF. It’s the least I can do for the community that has given me so much.

Why did you choose to participate in the MMRF Walk/Run?

In reality, I did not choose to sign up for the MMRF Walk/Run; my friends did. My friends who were by my side when I was diagnosed, the ones who drove me to my infusion treatments, and the ones who stepped up when I was in the hospital for 3 weeks and 100 days at home after the transplant all wanted to do even more. The MMRF Run/Walk was perfect: matching t-shirts, hats and gloves, and a picturesque walk along the Hudson River, the perfect opportunity to raise awareness and money.

The Spirit of Hope is given to “individuals/groups who inspire hope and show extraordinary commitment to the MMRF.” What does being given the award mean to you?

I am grateful for the recognition, but my participation and work with the MMRF has always just seemed like the right thing to do. The commitment comes from MMRF’s mission, at least how I see it: developing new treatments and advancing access to those treatment no matter where you are located or what your financial means are. I am proud to work with this great organization and look forward to continuing to help in any way I can.

How have you found perseverance in light of obstacles? Please share any stories that have given you strength.

Other than the physical obstacles related to treatment, which now just seem routine, the mental shock of this diagnosis and always knowing this disease seems capable of reoccurring at any time, has been the hardest to overcome. However, mentors (and now friends) who have gone through what I am going through have been invaluable. Talking to someone with myeloma can provide critical information, a shoulder to cry on, or just someone with whom to vent. My friend Mary Jane has been my go-to person since almost the beginning, and without her, I don’t believe I would be in this great place I am in now. Because of that, I always make myself available to people newly diagnosed, again, to give advice, listen to them cry, and to provide encouragement that life can still be great, even with myeloma.

Whether you’re battling multiple myeloma yourself, accompanying a loved one on their journey, or caring for patients, I know you understand—this is not an easy road to walk, ever. What gives me hope is that the next dollar I raise or the next dollar I give could be the one that brings about the newest lifesaving drug … or even a cure!

Do you have a favorite mantra, quote, lyric that gives you strength?

You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.

Anything to add?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I’m on maintenance therapy now, following a stem-cell transplant not long after my diagnosis. Each new drug that comes out could add years to my life and the life of someone like you or someone you love.

The MMRF is delighted to recognize Valerie Malsch as the MMRF Spirit of Hope Honoree at the 2024 MMRF Team for Cures: New York Walk/Run.

This award is presented at every Walk/Run to a patient, caregiver, or family who inspires hope through their resilience, perseverance, and dedication to the MMRF and its mission.

How did you get involved with the MMRF?

My journey began 17 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was on a ski trip in Vail; it was my first day of skiing, and I was experiencing excruciating back pain. I did something I would have never even considered; I changed my flight and headed home early. Throughout that summer my golf game declined, and I felt pain with every swing. Come December, the pain was so severe that I ended up on the floor in a fetal position several times. At that time, multiple myeloma did not have the exposure in the medical community that it does today. While the doctors tried to find the cause of my pain, MRI, CAT, and PET scans all showed no evidence of cancer. Four months later, after numerous tests and a loss of two inches of height, a simple 24-hour urine test showed I had elevated protein levels. A bone marrow biopsy confirmed a diagnosis of myeloma.

I took an unusual route to find a course of action. Through a friend, I found a financial analyst who covered the oncology market for myeloma, the doctors involved, and their success rates. With that list, I conferred with a friend who was the CEO of the local hospital and sought his opinion. At the time, I had never heard of the MMRF.

I started chemotherapy at CDH within two weeks of being diagnosed. After 24 IV’s, high-dose chemotherapy, and an outpatient stem cell transplant at Loyola, I stand here today 12 years later in total remission. I have not taken any drugs since that stem cell transplant. Thanks to the MMRF’s efforts, if needed, I now have many options to choose from.

Why did you choose to participate in the MMRF Walk/Run?

I first found out about the MMRF during the summer of my chemotherapy through my nephew, who suggested we participate in the Chicago 5K. We immediately enrolled in the fall race, which was run just before my stem cell transplant. At that race, we had over 120 participants and raised over $35,000. This year will be our 16th race.

How have you found perseverance in light of obstacles? Please share any stories that have given you strength.

Finding out you have a non-curable cancer is life changing. There were several things that I found extremely helpful in getting through my difficult journey.

1. My faith. I know I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the power of prayer and the healing power of Jesus Christ. I was on the prayer list at my home church, a neighborhood bible study group, a Jewish synagogue in Cleveland, cloistered nuns in Detroit, and a Czech missionary in Prague.
2. A positive mental attitude—I always believed I would win this battle.
3. A sense of humor—laughing helps.
4. A network of friends to rely on. During the chemo, I had one friend who took me to lunch every week and, near the end of treatment, even cut my food because I couldn’t hold a knife due to neuropathy.
5. And last, but should have been first, my family, including my loving wife, Sandy; three children; two son-in-law; and now eight grandchildren.

Anything to add?

I’d like to thank my doctor, Jon Aagaard, who is always available to cure what ails me, and my oncologist, Dr. Pat Stiff at Loyola, who gave me a stem cell transplant that keeps on giving.

I feel extremely grateful to the MMRF and can’t imagine this journey without its support. It is an absolute joy to share the successes of the MMRF and its programs with new patients. I am extremely hopeful and trust that a cure is on the way.

Thank you very much to the MMRF for this wonderful award. On behalf of all my fellow myeloma patients, thank you for the tremendous work you continue to do in cancer research and the development of life-saving solutions. To all my friends and supporters, we are forever grateful for your never-ending commitment to the MMRF.

The MMRF is delighted to recognize Tom Mihelcic as the MMRF Spirit of Hope Honoree at the 2024 MMRF Team for Cures: Chicago Walk/Run.

This award is presented at every Walk/Run to a patient, caregiver, or family who inspires hope through their resilience, perseverance, and dedication to the MMRF and its mission.

How important is it for multiple myeloma (MM) patients to know if they have double-hit MM?

MM patients who have two different chromosomal abnormalities (an example would be chromosome 1q amplification and chromosome 17p deletion) have double-hit MM. Double-hit MM is considered to be a high-risk disease feature which means these patients have a poor prognosis despite receiving current standard of care therapies. MM clinicians don’t expect their patients to be genomic experts and you don’t have to worry about exactly which chromosomal abnormalities you may or may not have! Rather, it is more important to be an active and engaged patient with your MM specialist and have an upfront conversation with him or her about whether your disease is easy to treat, hard to treat, or somewhere in between. Equally important is to know which clinical trials are available in your area.

Can a MM patient convert from high-risk to standard-risk disease after treatment or vice versa?

A patient cannot convert from having high-risk to standard-risk MM following treatment. For example, a newly diagnosed patient who has a chromosome 17p deletion and is treated with an induction regimen followed by an autologous stem cell transplant and achieved a complete response will show that the chromosomal abnormality went away, but that is only because the myeloma cells are gone; they were eliminated by the treatment. However, when the myeloma becomes active again and the patient relapses, that chromosomal abnormality will be seen again in the bone marrow biopsy test results.

The opposite is true: patients with standard-risk MM may convert to high-risk MM. High-risk chromosomal abnormalities may appear after a patient relapses. Therefore, it is important to repeat a bone marrow biopsy after relapse to determine if the MM has changed and become more aggressive.

With the approval of three new bispecific antibodies, what are the implications of using these for high-risk MM patients?

The MM therapeutic field has been rapidly advancing and it is truly an exciting and hopeful time for MM patients! Tecvayli (teclistamab) was approved for use in relapsed/refractory MM patients in October 2022 and two more bispecific antibodies were approved in August 2023 within a week: Talvey (talquetamab) and Elrexfio (elranatamab). Two of the bispecifics (Tecvayli and Elrexfio) target BCMA on myeloma cells (the same target for the two approved CAR T cell therapies Abecma and Carvykti) and one (Talvey) targets GPRC5D.

All bispecific antibodies are very effective in patients with relapsed/refractory MM as they can induce a response in over 60% of patients who have received many prior treatments. The key issue when treating relapsed/refractory patients is that clinicians are unclear how to sequence all the drugs—bispecific antibodies and CAR T cells—that are available to patients with relapsed/refractory MM. The bispecific antibodies have not been studied in patients who have relapsed after receiving CAR T cell therapy. However, as the bispecific antibodies are being used in the clinic, real-world experience is being gathered and many patients are being treated with bispecific antibodies after CAR T cell therapy. And the good news, is that data suggests that patients are responding.

Ultimately, the bispecific antibodies are one of several options for patients and, like all other drugs, if they are effective in the relapsed/refractory setting, they  are likely to be effective earlier in the disease course. Many clinical studies are underway in patients with earlier relapse (that is, only 1 to 3 prior lines of therapy) and in newly diagnosed disease and the MM community looks forward to seeing the results!